|Three older pastors took me aside to offer some well-intentioned advice. In summary, they told me I wouldn't get far in ministry if I challenged racism. They defended their racist humor, insisting they meant no harm, declaring it was simply part of culture.
Twenty five years ago I led worship for a local group of pastors in the Nashville area. In my sermon, I described the blatant and subtle ways in which pastors exhibit racism: jokes, stories, standing silent when church members exhibit racism, condoning or supporting racist policies in housing or education or employment. Drawing on the teachings of Jesus, I urged us to admit our racism, repent of it, and begin to school our words and deeds accordingly.
Afterwards, three older pastors took me aside to offer some well-intentioned advice. In summary, they told me I wouldn't get far in ministry if I challenged racism. They defended their racist humor, insisting they meant no harm, declaring it was simply part of culture. One of them said, "Mike, lighten up. Don't take this matter so seriously." Another, paraphrasing advice often given young politicians in that era, said, "Remember. Go along to get along."
They were wrong. Well-intentioned, hard-working, God-loving, interested in my future—but wrong.
Racism sets us in opposition to God. When we indulge in racism, we deny that God is the Creator of all men and women, regardless of their skin color. Racist attitudes, speech and actions lead us to disobey Jesus, who taught that all of us are neighbors to one another and are to treat one another as we would wish to be treated. Racism is a form of hatred, which Jesus forbade to his followers.
Racism is a sin. Let's confess this is so, turn from our racist ways, and begin to learn how to treat one another as creations of God.
Such resolve must find concrete expression. Consider adopting the following personal statement:
"With God's help, I confess the sin of racism. Racism has infected my heart and mind, found its way into my speech and actions, led me to suppress the Christ in me for the sake of fitting in to the culture surrounding me. I ask God's forgiveness.
May God help me change my ways. With God's support, I will never again pass along racist statements of any kind by the words of my mouth, e-mail, text messages, or any other medium. I will not listen to or support those who seek to inflame racism in my school, workplace, family, society or church. I will undertake to develop friendships with people of a race other than my own. I will defend equality before the law for all people. By the time I die, I will learn to love and treat all people as my God-created brothers and sisters.
This is my duty and opportunity as a follower of Jesus. May God grant me courage for the living of such a life."
Mike Smith is pastor of First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn. This column appeared previously in his blog.
DVD: "Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism"